Vancouver Whitecaps returned from their Hawaiian vacation/preseason jaunt, where they squared off against Japanese teams in the Pacific Rim Cup. For their first match against American opposition, the Caps went to the bright lights of Las Vegas, where they squared off against the aptly named Las Vegas Lights FC in their second ever match. The result was a 3-2 victory that included a red card, coaches sent to (and smoking!) the stands, and a chance to evaluate some of the starters as the regular season nears. We took a look at three players who impressed and some who’s performances happened in Vegas and should stay there.
Three who impressed
- Alphonso Davies
His end-to-end run that nabbed the Caps a second goal earned a coveted Kendall Waston slap of approval and who are we to argue? His goal will earn him plenty of well-deserved attention but I thought Fonzie put together a pretty good outing. Las Vegas Lights is exactly the sort of team you want to see Davies carving up and he seemed so confident and strong against a disorganized Lights midfield after that goal. He also linked up well at times with Nico Mezquida on the left hand flank. He had another sterling run later in the game but elected not to pass to Techera or Kamara. Those are the kinds of decisions the 17-year-old will have to improve on, but overall it was a promising performance from Davies, who reminded everyone in Vancouver of what he can do.
2. Cristian Techera
Not exactly a hot take to praise the first goal scorer but The Bug did more than just that sublime chip 10 minutes into the match. Techera continually found himself in the right place at the right time and it was only a strong save for the Lights keeper that denied him a second goal, less than 10 minutes after the first. His set piece delivery was much better than Nico Mezquida’s and he delivered several lively crosses destined for Kei Kamara; a linkup that will be vital to Vancouver’s success this season. The Bug has never had a striker as physically imposing as Kamara, to deliver the ball to, and I expect that combination will pop up on more than one occasion this year.
Also worth noting that Techera tracked back on multiple occasions and put a much improved defensive shift in. Overall, an energetic, imperious performance on Saturday from Techera he and showed why he should be one of the first names on the team-sheet for the season opener against Montreal Impact.
3. Russell Teibert
I thought Rusty was physical and strong all match in the center of the park. He wasn’t afraid to exchange pleasantries with Lights players in a match that got chippy in the second half and it’s that kind of emotion that you like to see, even in a preseason match. Even though Efrain Juarez was pretty quiet most of the match (see below), I thought the two linked up well and it reminded me of how strong and important Andrew Jacobson and Tony Tchani were at times last season in forcing opponents out wide and preventing them from getting easy chances in the middle of the field. It wasn’t his best offensive performance and his touch lost him at times but that’s to be expected in the preseason. Overall, there is definitely an opportunity for Teibert to see more minutes in central midfield this season and I thought he showed on Saturday why he’s the exact type of player Carl Robinson loves.
Bonus: Las Vegas Lights FC supporters
Supporters really turned out for the Lights’ second home match and frankly the atmosphere was already USL-ready, even if their squad is not. Cashman Field, while weirdly narrow, looked like a pretty good setup as the Lights wait for their soccer specific stadium to come. I’ll be interested to see if interest remains strong when the regular season begins but it looks like soccer culture in Sin City is alive and well.
Three who did not
- Nicolas Mezquida
Thought Nico looked quite energetic and put himself in good places at times but ultimately lacked the creativity that someone like Techera brought to the table. I feel like this is a make-or-break season for Nico in Vancouver, as he showed flashes last season of a player who deserved more minutes, yet could not quite put in consistent enough shifts to warrant moving up in the pecking order. That crispness was lacking again Saturday and we saw more than a few passes that were just a bit off base. One example of this, just before halftime, was Nico delivering a mediocre free kick, stepping up to win the ball back and skip by a defender before sending a poor cross out of play. It was not a debilitating performance from Nico but also not a fully formed one either and I don’t think he made a particularly strong statement for a starting spot going forward.
2. Kei Kamara
Had a nice penalty finish to seal the match and it wasn’t an especially horrid performance from Kei and I had to remind myself that the 32-year-old is not as young as he once was and needs more time to get back up to full fitness. But for someone tasked at least in part with replacing a true poacher in Fredy Montero, I thought Kamara’s finishing let him down a bit on Saturday. To be sure it is a friendly, but especially going up against a physically inferior defense I wanted to see Kei impose his will a bit more to win headers and force chances.
It was, however, great to see Kamara stick up for Alphonso Davies after getting wacked in the head by Marcelo Alatorre. The veteran leadership was appreciated by this supporter and I expect to see a lot more of that this season. Overall, I expect Saturday’s performance to be a blip but for Whitecaps fans always concerned about the striker position, it was not the most inspiring of nights from Kei Kamara.
3. Efrain Juarez
It wasn’t a poor performance from Juarez exactly and I thought he worked well with Teibert in the center of the park in snuffing out Lights chances and holding possession. But for a team that still lacks creativity at times, it was a bit disappointing not to see Juarez take a bit more initiative in serving as an architect going forward. At times, I forgot Juarez was on the pitch and while this is likely in part due to the fact that he is so new to the squad, it also raises a slight red flag for me. Ultimately, I think Juarez will be a success in Vancouver but I do still have some concerns in my mind that pairing him in midfield with Tony Tchani or Aly Ghazal will result in some of the same problems that plagued Vancouver in midfield last season, which is to say that they lack a real offensive spark and rely too much on possession oriented CMs. Again, I think Juarez’s technical ability and passing touch will shine through in time but it is something I’ll be paying close attention to going forward.